Nagra SD and VP88
Does anyone have any experience with this combo? Or the Nagra SD and any external (not the capsule modules from Nagra) stereo mic (preferably M/S)? The Nagra will record an external stereo mic with a 2 XLR Y into a 3.5mm TRS. I am wondering if anyone has used this with a M/S set up and if so, how is it monitoring the feed? I am assuming/guessing you have your mid channel in the right and the hot side of your side channel in the left. Any thoughts on the quality? I really like the form factor (not so much the price) and probably wouldn’t ever use this with the capsules from Nagra.
Thanks for reading and have a safe and happy New Year!
I’ve been using the Nagra SD almost daily for more than two years now — and it’s extraordinary. To your question though, I’ve only use the Green Band module, which sounds terrific. Since there’s no 48v phantom power available, you’ll need to add a power box to your VP88 rig (as big as the recorder itself), or stock-up on 6v camera batteries.
Greg, what made you choose that Nagra? Since the 1970s I’ve dreamt of Nagras–that reel-to-reel IV-S; be still my heart–but it always seemed the Japanese makers were ahead of them in the digital age, better features, MUCH cheaper prices. Admittedly, not the same build quality, but great for radio documentary. Lately, I’ve been very happy with the SoundDevices stuff, but the idea of a one-piece, every-day-carry unit is appealing. Can you tell more about what you use it for and why you love it?
Like you, I’ve used a lot of different field decks over the years and I was happy with my Sony D50 and Sound Devices 702 (still am). But doing more situational recording, where timing is everything (e.g getting a few minutes with an artist at a music festival), it makes a big difference to be ready to go on just a few seconds notice.
I first saw the Nagra SD on display at the AES convention. It is much smaller and lighter than our other gear, which I’d found awkward to carry around for days at a time. The Nagra, I was told, had premium preamps and converters — which as you know, are the two things that really make for great audio.
Another gear-crush ensued, but it was just too expensive to buy. So I read all the 5-star reviews and waited.
One day amid the B&H “B-Stock” listings, there it was, at a significant discount. I couldn’t pass it up and we’ve been together ever since. It’s been a couple years now and this is the first deck I’ve owned that I would replace with the same if need be…unless Sound Devices comes out with a mini-handheld. That would be tough competition.
I use the Nagra SD in every situation where a handheld is the right tool: interviews, samples, effects, ambiance and music — all on the fly. I don’t even use headphones anymore because virtually everything I point it at sounds really good. Because it is so small and lightweight, it pretty much lives in my bag in it’s little leather case and Windjammer. That’s how we capture so many fresh and unlikely conversations for our national show, UnderCurrents WEEKEND…we always have a good mic or two onhand! For street interviews, capturing the action, recording in the dark, the Nagra SD is always ready to go, with plenty of power and storage (32GB!) It looks pro, but being about the size of a phone, doesn’t attract attention.
The most important thing is that it delivers the kind of effortless transparency you’d expect from a Sound Devices. They’re not the same, but to my ears, it’s in the same league, at just a fraction of the size, weight and complexity (if not cost).
That’s a helpful report, Gregg, thanks! The compactness with high-quality is a great combo. Would you say it’s rugged–good for travel, weather, knocking around?
Wasn’t the Nagra SN made for the CIA ? For clandestine recordings? A nifty machine for its day.
Larry, this one may have been too! I don’t know, but it does have a Hi Mic Gain switch that I have never enabled…
Jay, yes, all of the above. Because its so light, it doesn’t really knock and bang around like heavier gear. Thus less protection needed. The leather skin fits on like a little racing glove with a clear soft plastic windshield for controls and display. I have a messenger bag that I tote most places and it just rides around in that with a scarf or something.. If added protection seems wise, then I’ll nest it in a little Tucano bag with zippers that can be opened for quick access — and that’s in the bigger bag.
Rugged? So far it has worked trouble-free covering half dozen multi-day music festivals and everywhere else we go — weekend vox recording adventures, conferences, international trips, etc. I just keep it clean and dry and right with me (like a phone).
Thank you for all of the great information. The size and I was hoping quality were pretty much exactly what I was going for. After spending time with my 633, I have been looking for a hand held recorder that will deliver similar. It sounds like the Nagra will fit the bill. I like the M/S capability of the VP88 and if it will work with the Nagra, it is a huge plus as it fits in my daily carry bag fairly easily. As far as battery goes, this would be more for impromptu and on the fly stuff, where I need to get something out and be recording in short order, so a fresh battery in the mic and another couple just in case would more than cover it, anything longer than that and I’d most likely have more of a kit out. I’ll have a more serious look at the green band mic now though as being able to just point and go reliably is the whole idea. Thank you again for the details.
Sounds like a great plan Jason Rock on!
Jason -I think the Nagra SD is a really cool device, and as Gregg has so helpfully described, a really great solution for many circumstances. But unless you might indeed end up using one of the Nagra mic attachments, I think you might be better-served with a different machine.
As an all-in-one, hand-held, run-and-gun recorder, that Nagra SD will be hard to beat, if price is not an obstacle. But we’re also living in pretty amazing times: a recorder like a Zoom H5 sounds pretty great, isn’t much bigger, and can be had for a fraction of the price.
And if you’re pretty set on using the VP-88, especially if you want to take advantage of its M/S capabilities, in recording unmatrixed M/S for mixing later, you’ll be much better off with a Sound Devices MixPre3. It might not be quite as small as the Nagra SD, but it’s pretty tiny!
And if feels really weird to refer to Sound Devices gear as low-cost alternatives, but it’s way cheaper. $650 for the MixPre3 vs $950 for the Nagra. And if you’re not using an attached Nagra mic, you’ve lost the benefit of a hand-held form factor, so I think you’d actually be better-off with something like the MixPre3 that you can hang from a strap.
And the MixPre3 can give you a stereo mix to your phones, while recording the raw, unmatrixed M/S from the VP-88. I don’t think the Nagra will do that with an external mic.
The MixPre3 has XLR inputs for external mics, the Nagra has a mini.
Of course the Nagra will sound great, but the MixPre3 does too! And, for what it’s worth, it’ll do more things, such as act as a high-quality USB interface for your computer, if you want it to be.
The Nagra does have much better battery life, but that always makes me a bit suspicious: really good mic preamps tend to need some juice…
Again, ignoring price, the Nagra SD is a beautiful machine. And if you can find a good deal on it, AND are using a Nagra mic clipped to it, I think it would be an awesome solution. But if you want to use the VP-88, I’d get a MixPre3 if I were you. Or if I were budget-conscious, I’d get a Zoom H5, in many circumstances, that’s going to sound pretty close….
In any case, please report back on what you decided, and how it worked!
- This reply was modified 1 week, 5 days ago by Jeff Towne.
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Couldn’t agree more Jeff. It’s a beautiful world when we’re debating Nagra vs. Sound Devices, with perfectly good options like Zoom right behind them.
So I have a few options to test over the weekend.
I do have an H6 Zoom that does a pretty good job and fits in the pocket of the bag I travel with OK. The problem I have with it is that the XLR inputs are on the side and leaving it wired up is too hard on the cables (and it doesn’t fit where i want to keep it while traveling). I ordered some 90 degree XLR ends and will make a splitter for the 5 pin cable for the VP88 so they lay flat against the H6 and see how this works.
I have a friend that is going to loan me an H5 to test as well. This has the XLR in the bottom, so cable management is easier.
I’ve been looking at the MixPre series for some time now to keep as a dedicated recorder to replace the H6 on our main camera rig so that we’d also have the nicer MixPre as a backup recorder for our 633 should something go pear shaped. I hadn’t thought of the MixPre3 as a dedicated sound recorder, but it is small enough to fit where I want it to go and has two of the XLR inputs on one side, so might work really well. I really like the format and layout of the hardware for setting levels and hanging it off of a strap would make it very easy to walk around with.
I realize I’m getting pretty picky with this on some small details, but I’ve found that I have better luck getting good tape if I have a system down that not only am I comfortable and familiar with, but that I like. The VP88 is kind of a beast of a mic, but I do a lot of recording from the back seat of a car and it works really well for me to get two people in the front seat and use one of the side channels to get me in the back if I need (and I am just a big M/S fan 🙂 ). The cable management issue might seem like a small thing, and really it is, but after 25 hours of travel, including a 14 hour plane, not enough sleep, not enough shower, crappy food, too much coffee, finding bags, managing customs and trying to hurry because you’ve got folks waiting curb side to pick you up. The conversation starts as soon as we get in the car and being able to just pull out a mic, hit record and start means I get more on tape and I’m not fumbling around with my gear with a foggy head, trying to get this plugged into that, find my levels, etc.. etc… I’ve not been happy with the handy recorders and the built in mics inside a car so far. The ball mic that goes on the end of the zoom does OK, but not as good as the VP88 does. I’ll be in LA here in February and I’m trying to talk the guys with Trew into letting me use the Nagra with the green mic capsule and take a ride in the car to see how it does, if this works well, it would be a very appealing option, even with the higher price tag.
Again, I really want to thank you guys for your input and encouragement. I’ll let you know how things play out.
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